By Maria Glod, Jerry Markon and Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 9, 2010; 1:02 AM
A Baltimore construction worker was charged Wednesday with plotting to blow up a military recruiting station in Maryland after the FBI learned of his radical leanings on Facebook, joined his plot and supplied him with a fake car bomb that he tried to detonate, federal officials said.
Antonio Martinez, 21, a U.S. citizen who recently converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Hussain, declared on his Facebook page that he hates "Any 1 who opposes Allah." Those kinds of postings, brought to the FBI's attention, sparked an intensive investigation involving an undercover agent, a secret informant and a chilling plot to kill military personnel in the United States because they were killing Muslims overseas, according to an FBI affidavit filed Wednesday.
Martinez was so intent on carrying out the attack on the Catonsville recruiting station that he approached at least three people to join in what he saw as his mission, court papers say. Another - whom Martinez knew as his "Afghani brother" - was actually an undercover FBI agent.
The arrest is the latest in a series of cases in which federal authorities have used undercover operatives to monitor extremists, secretly befriend those suspected of plotting terror attacks and, in some cases, even to provide the means to carry them out.
Last month, undercover agents in Oregon helped a man who set out to kill thousands at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony prepare a bomb (which was fake), then arrested him after he tried to detonate it in a crowded public square. In October, federal agents posing as Islamic radicals met with a Northern Virginia man later accused of plotting to bomb Washington area Metro stations.
The FBI's tactics have been criticized by some Muslims, who accuse government agents of infiltrating mosques and trying to entrap members of their community. But the strategy has worked, said Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert with the Rand Corp think tank. "There is no question that they have prevented terrorist attacks," Jenkins said, adding that officials have become more careful in recent years to avoid entrapment.
Plots are allowed to proceed to the point where defendants think there will be an actual attack. That, he said, makes it easier for the government to bring more-serious terrorism charges.
In the Baltimore case, federal officials emphasized that Martinez came up with the idea and target for the plot, tried to recruit others and was given numerous chances by agents to back out.
Martinez, who went to school in Prince George's County, first came to the attention of federal officials in October when a confidential informant told them that Martinez wanted to kill members of the military. That began a series of recorded conversations that would eventually include an undercover FBI agent whom Martinez thought was from Afghanistan and would help him make a vehicle bomb and teach him how to detonate it.
Federal officials said Martinez was acting on his own, without direction from any outside terrorist group. Court papers describe a man obsessed with jihad and who longed to find others to join him.
"IM just a yung brotha from the wrong side of the tracks who embraced Islam," Martinez wrote in a biography on his Facebook page. "We gotta rise up."
Martinez watched videos of Osama bin Laden and called Anwar al-Aulaqi his "beloved sheikh." Aulaqi, who is on a terror watch list, was the spiritual inspiration behind the attempted bombing of a jetliner over Detroit and the shooting at Fort Hood, Tex., that killed 13 people.
Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney in Maryland, stressed in an interview that Martinez not only pushed ahead with his plans and tried to recruit others to join him, but also ignored pleas from one person to give it up.
"He approached four people and asked them to take part in this scheme," Rosenstein said. "Two people refused. One refused and tried to talk him out of it, and the fourth turned him in to the FBI."
Martinez is charged with the attempted murder of federal employees and the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. property. He faces life in prison if convicted.
An affidavit filed to support the charges and written by FBI Special Agent Keith E. Bender details a plot that escalated from Martinez's idea to get a rifle and "shoot everyone" in the recruiting station to the bombing. Bender describes Martinez as enthusiastic, saying that he talked about the Catonsville attack as the first of many he would carry out on the American military. "All he thinks about is jihad," Bender wrote.
When he couldn't get others to join, the secret FBI informant offered to introduce him to his "Afghani brother." That man was an undercover FBI agent, who suggested that he could help Martinez make a vehicle bomb.
Just days ago, the FBI informant asked Martinez whether he was sure he wanted to go through with the attack in Catonsville. "I came to you about this, brother," Martinez said.
Earlier, Martinez had told the informant that he wanted to "hit 'em where it hurts."
"We are gonna go . . . to their stations, to their bases . . . to everywhere a soldier is," he said. "Every soldier that we see in uniform will be killed on the spot."
Martinez talked about blowing up Andrews Air Force Base and said he wanted to get a truck full of gasoline, court records say. Another time, he said it would be effective to carry out small attacks and ambushes. His goal, he said, was to become a martyr.
During a hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, he was ordered held without bond pending a Dec. 14 detention hearing. He told Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar that his name is Muhammad Hussain. The judge asked if he also goes by Antonio Martinez.
"That is my other name that I was born with," Martinez said.
Martinez posted on his Facebook page that he was in the Class of 2005 at Laurel High School. He said in court that he is married. Authorities said he didn't have a fixed address.
Asanat Akibu, who was in a class with Martinez at Laurel, said she remembers him as a quiet student who didn't attract attention. "He was always to himself and a bit standoffish," she said, adding that she didn't think he was Muslim in high school.
Martinez's family members did not comment Wednesday. Court papers say he told the informant that his mother disapproved of his choices but that he is "glad I am not like everyone else my age . . . going out having fun, be in college, all that stuff. That's not for me. . . . That's not what Allah has in mind for me."
Court records show that Martinez was convicted of petty theft in Montgomery County in 2008 and was placed on probation.
On Wednesday morning, according to court papers, Martinez, the agent and the confidential informant drove to the recruiting station separately. Martinez, using a map he drew, decided where to park the vehicle with the fake explosives and inspected the "bomb," the affidavit says.
Martinez drove away. Once he knew that there were soldiers inside, he attempted to detonate the bomb, the FBI agent wrote.
email@example.com Staff writer John Wagner and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.